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How I survived isolation for radioactive iodine treatment: a recap

Going through radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment and isolation can be tough, but it's not just about medical stuff. It's about dealing with the emotional rollercoaster that comes with the experience.

If you've been following my story, then you know that in January, I've went through RAI therapy for thyroid cancer. This past December, I found out that the cancer had metastasized to some of the lymph nodes. Because there is no gross disease, my doctor felt RAI was the best route for treatment. I have yet to know if it worked, but that's a whole long story for another day.

Undergoing RAI requires a lot of preparation—and not just for the week or so you'll be spending in a room by yourself. For 7 to 10 days prior to taking the pill, you have to eat a strict low-iodine diet. This is so your body is deprived of iodine to make sure the remanent thyroid tissue and cancer cells uptake as much of the radioactive iodine as possible. I won't get into the specifics of this practice; instead, I suggest you head off to Julia Diaz's Instagram page for more information once you're done reading this blog. (Julia is a 14-year thyroid cancer survivor and registered dietitian focused on helping people impacted by thyroid cancer. I've interviewed her twice for my podcast, The Sad & Buff Show, and honestly, she's the bees knees.)

I will, however, offer some tips and advice for managing isolation. Typically, your administering doctor will give you guidance for how long you will need to isolate and general rules for dealing with side effects and maintaining distance from others. But what they don't offer is guidance for coping with the anxiety and loneliness. I hope this blog could fill that gap.

Preparing for isolation

Before starting isolation, make sure you have what you need at home, create a cozy space, and take care of yourself.

  • Stock up on groceries, meds, and whatever else you need because once you're in isolation, you're stuck at home. Because my partner would not be able to touch my utensils or drink ware, we bought two cases of bottled water, paper plates, and napkins. I also premade meals for the entire week in isolation, which my partner would reheat on the paper plate so that I wouldn't have a pile up of dishes to do once the period ended. (He would leave the food on a stool in front of the bedroom door with sweet nothings written on the plate's edges.

  • Keep certain clothes and sheets separate for yourself while you're undergoing radioactive iodine treatment isolation. Your family can't touch or wash these items because they might be contaminated. I packed a bag of house clothes that I wore exclusively during isolation, avoiding the clothes in my closet at all costs. I also put old sheets on the bed and used an old comforter. Although I washed my clothes and sheets as soon as I left isolation, I didn't want to risk the possibility of remanent contamination on my favorite wears.

  • Take care of yourself both physically and mentally. Make sure to eat nutritious meals, drink plenty of water, and prioritize relaxation. Incorporate activities like meditation, yoga, or indulging in your favorite TV shows to unwind. Starting these practices before isolation can help prepare your mind for the challenges ahead and maintain your well-being throughout the process.

Guidance for isolation

During isolation, keep these things in mind:

  • Get enough shut-eye. Your body needs it to heal, so don't skimp on sleep. And to be honest, I am not sure you will be able to resist drifting off the dreamland. I know I was exhausted every day I spent in isolation.

  • Stay connected with loved ones. Text, call, video chat—whatever it takes to feel connected, even when you're physically apart. My partner and I used walkie talkies to communicate, played online group games, and took advantage of Amazon Prime's Watch Party feature so we could still enjoy our favorite shows together. I also FaceTimed my son when I could.

  • Take it easy on yourself. Do activities that match your energy levels. Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation to help ease anxiety and stress. You'll need to avoid sweating while in isolation, as the radiation escapes through your bodily fluids. But this doesn't mean you can't experience movement. I practiced yoga almost every day and lifted very light weights when I felt good enough to.

  • Set small, achievable goals. Whether it's finishing a book, learning a new hobby, or simply getting through the day, having something to aim for can keep you motivated. During isolation, I set a goal to finish 4 books, and I'm proud to say I accomplished what I set out to do (this includes hate-reading one book that I shall not name). The books in question: The Nightwatchman by Louise Erdrich, Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neill, and Still Life by Louise Penny. I also binged 3 shows and wrote several pages of my novel.

Key realizations

As you navigate through isolation, you'll learn a few things:

  • You're stronger than you think. Each day you get through is a testament to your resilience.

  • Taking care of yourself isn't selfish; it's necessary. You can't pour from an empty cup, so make self-care a priority.

  • Stay connected with people. Even though you're physically isolated, you don't have to go through this alone.

  • Roll with the punches. Life doesn't always go as planned, but learning to adapt and find the silver lining can make all the difference.

  • Celebrate the wins, no matter how small. Getting through isolation is no easy feat, so give yourself credit for every victory, no matter how insignificant it may seem.

While the days were tough, I also discovered my own inner strength and learned to appreciate the small moments of happiness. Going through isolation after RAI treatment is a challenge, but it's also an opportunity for personal reflection and self-discovery. Keep pushing forward, knowing that there are people here to support you every step of the way. We're in this together, and we'll come out stronger on the other side.


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